Geoffrey Macnab: Momentum builds as Oscar judges prepare to bow down

It was only to be expected that the 2011 Baftas would turn into an exercise in flag waving on behalf of British cinema in general and of The King's Speech in particular.

The momentum behind Tom Hooper's film about the stuttering monarch King George VI aka Bertie (Colin Firth) has been building and building. Its UK box-office performance has been spectacular, the Queen herself appears to have offered the movie her stamp of approval, and there is now a general consensus (in Britain at least) that it would be very bad manners to give a major award to any other film.

At this time of year, the lemming mentality invariably takes hold of Academy members on both sides of the Atlantic. A few movies are singled out and all the rest are summarily forgotten. Although David Fincher won a best director award for The Social Network and Natalie Portman added to her haul of best actress gongs for Black Swan, it was very definitely Bertie's night. Firth is already the most backed Oscar nominee in history and his Bafta was all but a shoo-in.

If Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter had won but Colin Firth had been overlooked, accusations of treason would doubtless have been levelled at the Bafta voters. Nonetheless, you can't help but wish that these voters had been a little bolder and less conformist. Is The King's Speech really a better film than Black Swan, The Social Network and True Grit? Posterity might well have a very different opinion.

Arguably, what was far most heartening for British cinema was the strength of the nominees for the outstanding debut award. Just occasionally, in barren years, this category can turn into little bit of an embarrassment – a prize given to an honest striver rather than to a film of real merit.

This year, all the nominees were very strong indeed. The winner, Four Lions by Chris Morris, is a far braver and more radical film than The King's Speech. In making a comedy about young jihadists, Morris managed to be both provocative and funny. Four Lions is an uncomfortable film to watch, which The King's Speech certainly isn't.

As for the rest, Aaron Sorkin's award for adapted screenplay for The Social Network was absolutely deserved. The wit and cleverness of his writing evoked memories of the best scripts that Ben Hecht used to write in the golden days of Hollywood. Roger Deakins' cinematography Bafta for True Grit was likewise surely an easy decision for Academy voters to make. His evocation of the old West was moody and majestic.

One surprise was the foreign language category. The winner, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, hasn't even made the short list for the Oscars. Generally, foreign language awards are reserved for challenging art-house fare, not crowd pleasers such as Niels Arden Oplev's Stieg Larsson adaptation.

Now, it's on to the Oscars. The American Academy isn't going to be quite as dewy-eyed about The King Speech as all those genuflecting British Academy voters. Nonetheless, the clamour around it at the Baftas will only help the film's Oscar chances. The British are coming, Colin Welland famously boasted when Chariots Of Fire won its Oscars. Judging by last night at the Baftas, the Brits, led by Firth and co, are certainly on the march again.

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